We know that after watching their gutty performance against That Other Team on Sunday, but as I left the Coliseum after the Arizona game I honestly didn't know. Within an hour or so, there was a sign of life in a text I received from one of the players. Here's an excerpt: "This hurts ... but we'll stay together."
Not "I hope" we can stay together.
Not "we'll try" to stay together.
I've heard it said that when someone uses the word "but," everything in front of it is irrelevant and you only really have to listen to the second part of the sentence. The same probably stands true here, too.
"We"ll stay together."
And Sunday night proved it. Because even when you have a lead, you can still have your back against the wall. Which was certainly the case when everyone short of the WSU trainer at the end of the bench was in foul trouble with a lot of basketball left to play. Even the most optimistic of Cougar fans couldn't have been thrilled with the chances of playing down the stretch with a deck missing a couple of aces.
This circumstance wasn't all the result of too many wrist slaps, either. The refs went out of their way to protect Isaiah Thomas. So with foul trouble galore, the Cougs had to rely on their bench. At the most critical juncture of the season, a couple of cold bodies stepped in and held it down. Charlie Enquist and Patrick Simon were golden.
I'm not quite sure how Simon was able to bury the three ball having been sitting for an hour and half, but I can tell you that I nearly put my fist through my ceiling when it dropped. Enquist didn't do anything spectacular hero, and many fans probably didn't even really notice him. Which is an incredible feat considering how athletic and talented his opponent's were. Spelling Casto for nine minutes, he played tough defense and grabbed three rebounds. If the Dawgs were able to take advantage of him, it would have been exceedingly obvious. Serious kudos to Charlie.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot about Reggie Moore. Even though his massive alley-oop created potentially the loudest moment in the history of Beasley, his most important play could very well have been the three he drained when UW went to the zone after Klay Thompson picked up his fourth foul. I actually thought going to the zone was a brilliant call by Lorenzo Romar, and unless Reggie was going to continue to snipe from the perimeter it may have given the Cougs fits. But in turn, the Huskies went back to man and Moore went on a mission attacking the paint when things had the potential to become stagnant.
Although every player carried his own weight, I've gotta give some love to Coach Bone and how he approached the substitution patterns in this game. Early on, it was apparent that he was subbing earlier and more often than usual. My guess is that Bone wanted to ensure that nobody got winded too early, because a fatigued defense can be fatal against a team as explosive as the Huskies. Also, getting players exposed to the intensity and speed of a game of this magnitude helps a player settle in when their number is called later. It's a tough task to sit and watch, face a deficit, and be called upon to stop a freight train. Minus the deficit, this is what Simon and Enquist did. And for that, they deserve some recognition.
I'm not exactly sure how many of the second-half Pac-10 games the Cougs will need to win to get an NCAA Tourney bid. Seven of 9 would seem a lock and 6 of 9 close to it. But based on their comments post-game, the Cougs have their eyes set squarely on the crown -- and rightfully so. As sweet as this victory was against UW, we'll learn a little bit about how hungry they are at the Oregon schools this weekend. If they're focused, I simply don't see the Oregon schools being able to hang with the Cougs. The Ducks and Beavers are desperate for some wins at this point, BUT the Cougs are confident, talented, and unified. Here's to the second half run.
Let's get it!